Imperative versus ambivalence: our choices as women today

Imperative versus ambivalence: our choices as women today Chloe Peacock

21st August 20159Comments
Motherhood and ambivalence

Motherhood and ambivalence…

When it comes to women making decisions to have or not have children, biological imperatives get a lot of coverage these days – from egg-freezing parties to single women using the services of sperm banks ‘before it’s too late.’ Ambivalence about motherhood rarely gets a look in.

Some women definitely yearn to become mothers. Some definitely do not and make a clear decision early in their lives not to have children. Good luck to both groups. But there seems little room and no words to describe an in-betweener who has imprecise feelings and emotions about potentially becoming a mum or not. When on occasion the ‘I’m not sure and let’s just see’ approach does come up in conversation, it is often perceived as foolhardy or apathetic. You must know, you must make a choice! Added to this is the increasing social hysteria surrounding the ‘fertility window’. I’m considered an idiot by some for not having made a clear decision on my thirty-fifth birthday to get cracking and take affirmative action to know the exact status of my fertility.

We’ve made motherhood a polarized, essentialist issue for women with no room for uncertainty. You’re childfree by choice or by circumstance. You can’t. Or you won’t. Simple. Those too slow to decide and take action to get pregnant get shoved in the hideously termed ‘socially infertile’ to describe those who would like to have children but who regrettably haven’t found themselves with the right partner or in settled circumstances. Rather than go it alone or take a dubious accidently-on-purpose route to become mothers, these women with full and loving lives chose to let fate take its course and deal with life as it happens. At tlfw we’ve decided that we’re not going to give that particular term any more airtime. There are other ways and other words to discuss our lives.

What’s the reality of living with ambivalence to motherhood today? Well, the presumption that ‘comment-is-free’ on my maternal status can be hard-going. I really have had an uneasy phone call from a relative asking me if I had thought about freezing my eggs given my age. Even my five-year-old niece is in on it, having taken me aside for a quiet word one day to suggest I become a ‘mum on my own’ like some of her friends from school who have single parents.

The most difficult and unpleasant experience around being a childfree woman I’ve had to deal with with are the gloomy soothsayers who barely know me and who shake their heads and insinuate I’ll end up wretched, having ‘missed the boat’. This offends me. I don’t think it can ever be one person’s place to imply another has missed out on a meaningful life before that person has finished living.

There is still so much cultural mythology around motherhood being the only natural calling for women. Those women who don’t or can’t or just don’t know if they want to be mothers are still perceived as ‘lesser’. If you are, ambivalent you’re also seen as less smart. Non-mothers are less feminine, less nurturing, less kind and on it goes. Till we get to the logical point that women without children are ‘less natural as women’. That, my friends, is prejudice: and plain wrong.

But that’s what happens when we wed women to biological imperatives and keep the myth alive that being a mother is an essential part of being a women. And this takes us back to ambivalence. What does it mean not to know one way or the other and not be driven to make a choice despite the tick tock of the biological clock in the background? Why are women ambivalent about motherhood? Fear of parenting? The legacy of difficult parts of our own childhoods? A subconscious or even conscious rejection of partners and their potential as father material? Concerns about the environment and children already living in terrible conditions across the world?

Or, personally speaking, is it that I am indecisive, because deep down really I don’t want to have kids? I do wonder if by not making a firm decision I could be trying to hold on to the illusion I can have it all? All the benefits of childfree living: sleeping in; not ever having to go to Camp Bestival; exotic holidays at the last minute; my disposable income disposed of on me. At the same time I can hold the idea at the back of my mind that I can still be one of those tranquil earth mother types if the stars align. To be honest, it depends on which day of the week it is and what way the wind is blowing what I’ll tell you. That I have no hard and fast explanation is part of my general ambivalence.

How can I comprehend what I might regret in the future now? What I am sure of in the present moment is that I can’t make a major life decision on the basis of anxiety. As for the potential for my twilight years lived in the shadow of a sorrow for a child I never had, in the words of Edith Piaf “Je ne regrette rein de rein”.

I do not need to live in the shadow of the child-that-never-was. I don’t need a life plan B because I already have a life. If I pop my clogs tomorrow I’m confident my life had meaning and I have given to others. I have experienced what it is to love someone else more than myself. I do not need to to validate my existence as a woman or to prove my love for the human race. As for procreating for and through the deep love of a partner and the desire to create a bonsai version of us, that does sound magnificent in theory/ but in practice? Well you know – I just don’t know. I am ambivalent you see.



  1. Great article!
    This really resonates with me as I don’t know if I want kids. Although noones said anything directly, I feel the social pressure by comments about my “biological click ticking” now I have reached the big 30. And I remind myself that I am doing things in my own time because I have so many things to accomplish, not rushing to fit into societies norms. I’m focused on my blog and business which gives my life meaning:

    Thanks Sara

  2. Those are my feelings exactly. I’m not sure if I want to be a mom because I want to or because society wants to. I am more inclined into the ‘I don’t want to’ and then I see all of my friends and relatives with their bundles of joy (on the pictures at least) and wonder if I should follow same path. But oh I just love my freedom so much, and the new moms don’t have any proper social life anymore…Think I’ll visit my therapist…

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Marie. The constant picture sharing on social media of babies and kids is interesting in itself. It can be extra hard when you’re in the not sure category and it seems as if everyone you know is having a child. Nobody ever shares pictures of the tough stuff…but that’s probably a good thing! x

  3. Reading this article couldn’t have come at a better time. I have always been in the ‘never want children’ category and defending my choice a constant life battle, people I barely know always have an opinion. I’m 32 now and have started to have my doubts as to whether or not I have made the right choices. My friends who were in the ‘never want’ category all now have and are demanding I change my mind as it will be the best thing ever. The hardest part of my choice was to have to walk away from my boyfriend of 6 years who I saw as my being with for the rest of my life but turns out he’d lied about not wanting children the whole time because he thought I’d change my mind. A year later I sometimes wonder if it was the right thing to do. Part of me thinks I’m having doubts because of social convention and peer pressure, I wonder if I’m normal. I know the article was about being ambivalent but it helps to see that there are others out there who see that there are more choices in what to do with your life than baby making and being a mother. Maybe I should stop doubting myself and let whatever be, be.

    1. Hi Laura
      Thank you so much for your comment. I think your experience and uncertainties speak to a lot of women who aren’t sure about motherhood. You are definitely not alone in the wondering… The lovely Michelle Marie Mcgrath mentioned Maybe Baby to me a few months ago – you might find it helpful / interesting if you’re in a place where you’re giving the topic a lot of thought.
      Take care & know that you’re very welcomed to our blog & community whatever you’re feeling. Lots of love

    2. There are a lot of social pressures put upon women all over the world to fulfil what many people regard as their primary function, to give birth. Perhaps if more women of child bearing age thought about the damage that our increasing population is doing to this beautiful planet, more would decide not to have children. I think that it is more selfish to have children than to not have children, especially in relation to the heavy burden each of us puts on this planet during one lifetime of consumption. Just as we are driven by a basic instinct to obtain food and water, so nature made sure that the need to procreate is just as strong. As history shows, any species where the numbers increase exponentially, is eventually checked by some natural or (possibly in our case), man made disaster. A pandemic, a nuclear event, global warming or another ice age. It would be sad fate if this turned out to be the legacy of mankind’s short time on this planet.

  4. Interesting. I’m in the opposite camp in that I was ambivalent, but ended up a mother. We had friends who (in their late 40s) suddenly decided that they wanted kids after all. They ended up spending tens of thousands of pounds on fertility treatment abroad. I didn’t want that to happen to me. Although I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a parent, I couldn’t see how I would regret it if it happened. I just didn’t want to end up, too late, regretting not having tried. Despite being convinced we were probably infertile, and knowing we wouldn’t bother with the IVF route, we decided (in our late 30s) just to see what would happen naturally. I fell pregnant quickly. Of course our lives have changed. Of course we sometimes miss the freedoms we once had. But they’ll come again. In the meantime, our daughter brightens the world and brings us joy in ways that we could not have imagined. Our only regret now is that we hadn’t started earlier, as, at the age of 45, after six years of trying for number 2 and suffering two miscarriages, it is looking like our daughter will remain an only child.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Jay. It’s good to hear/read a different perspective. It’s wonderful that your daughter brings you such joy. Lots of love and best wishes to you and your family.

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